Chief Rabbi urges faiths to pull together for the common good

By Stephen Brown
July 30, 2008

Addressing more than 600 of the world's Anglican bishops, Britain's chief rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks has appealed to Jews and Christians to forge common cause and reach out to other people in a world dominated by politics and economics.

"Though we do not share a faith, we surely share a fate," said Sacks in his speech on 28 July, on what is believed to be the first occasion a chief rabbi has addressed the once-every-10-years gathering of Anglican bishops called the Lambeth Conference. "Whatever our faith or lack of faith, hunger still hurts, disease still strikes, poverty still disfigures, and hate still kills," Sacks told the bishops.

He said that faith brings a "covenantal relationship" of cooperation to a world governed by economics and politics, which were based, he believed, on a logic of competition.

"If there is only competition and not co-operation, if there is only the State and the market and no covenantal relationships, society will not survive," said Sacks. Still, he noted, "What is the face religion all too often shows to the world? Conflict between faiths, and sometimes within faiths."

The Jewish leader said that globalisation and new information technologies were fragmenting the world, and creating "ever-smaller sects of the like-minded". At the same time, "globalisation is also thrusting us together as never before" in the face of challenges such as the environment, political conflict and poverty.

Answering questions after his address, the Jewish leader appealed to the worldwide Anglican Communion, which is embroiled in strife about homosexuality in the church, to "pull together for the future". He said, "Your ability to hold together in a world driving us apart is your unique contribution."

Sacks, who as a child in London attended schools run by the (Anglican) Church of England, said, "The hardest thing in the world is to hold the adherents of a faith together. The Anglican Communion has held together quite different strands of Christian theology and practice more graciously and successfully than any other religion I know."

In his speech, Sacks also referred to the history of Christian anti-Semitism and persecution of Jews.

"We may have forgotten this but for a thousand years, between the First Crusade and the Holocaust, the word 'Christian' struck fear into Jewish hearts," said the chief rabbi. "Think only of the words the Jewish encounter with Christianity added to the vocabulary of human pain: blood libel, book burnings, disputations, forced conversions, inquisition, auto da fe [public executions], expulsion, ghetto and pogrom."

Sacks paid tribute to the then Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, and the chief rabbi in Britain Joseph H. Hertz, who together in 1942 founded the Council of Christians and Jews. "And since then, Jews and Christians have done more to mend their relationship than any other two religions on earth," said Sacks. "And now we must extend that friendship more widely."

Sacks' speech came at the end of a day during which the bishops in Canterbury in southeast England had been discussing interfaith dialogue.

No issue had "changed so dramatically" as interfaith dialogue since the last Lambeth Conference in 1988, Bishop Tom Butler of Southwark in London told a media conference. Twenty years ago, interfaith dialogue was treated largely as a theoretical issue, he said, "but now it is high on the agenda of virtually every bishop in the world".

Butler described leaders of other faiths as "allies" in rebuilding community following tensions created by such events as the terror attacks of 11 September 2001 on the US, and the war in Iraq. "We can play our part in being the glue that holds society together for the common good," he said.

Pakistan Bishop Alexander Malik described interfaith dialogue as being "difficult though not impossible" in his country, where 97 percent of the 168 million people are Muslims, and fewer than 3 percent are Christians.

"The dynamic of interfaith dialogue differs when Muslims are in a minority and when they are in a majority," said Malik, the moderator of the Church of Pakistan, a united church that includes Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian traditions.

Still, he said, Western policies and actions can "generate misconceptions and clashes" that strengthen an extremist minority. He referred to cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper, as well as the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and Western policies in the Middle East.

Malik said that Christians in Pakistan were trying to deal with controversial issues through dialogue.

"Dialogue is for us a daily business. It is a dialogue of life," said Malik. "Dialogue has also helped us to help other people, especially in transforming the society, and we do it through education, through health care and through programmes of poverty alleviation irrespective of creed caste or colour."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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